Preparing Students with Disabilities for Life after School and the Workplace


Philadelphia student with learning disability receives funding for support preparing for higher education in settlement with School District

Is your student being prepared for life after school? Under federal law, the School District of Philadelphia is required to provided “transition services” for students with disabilities, which are “activities designed to prepare the child for further education, independent living and employment.”

All children with Individualized Education Programs (IEP) between the ages of 14 and 21 are required to receive these services. If you feel that your child is not receiving the services they need to succeed, or have questions about transition services, the Law Center wants to hear from you. Contact staff attorney Darlene Hemerka at 267-546-1314 or

September 2019–Our client Antonio Spence, a 2019 graduate of Philadelphia Public Schools, has dreamed of attending college. During his senior year, Antonio and his family learned that, although he was well on track to graduate, he was performing significantly below grade level on math and reading and would likely have difficulty completing higher education. Antonio has specific learning disability, which affects his ability to complete many types of schoolwork. His disability does not affect his general intelligence, and with adequate support individualized for his needs, he could have performed at grade level.

The Public Interest Law Center represented Antonio and his family in a due process complaint filed on May 30 with the Office of Dispute Resolution against the School District of Philadelphia, alleging that the School District failed to provide Antonio with individualized services he needed. On September 19, 2019, we reached an amicable settlement with the District. Antonio will receive compensatory education funding from the District. Compensatory education funding can be used to pay for services including but not limited to Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Tutoring, ESY(Extended School Year), Educational Programs, Career and Transitional Services, Educational Technology and others.

Read the complaint here.

All students with disabilities have the legal right to receive services to prepare them for their goals for life after they leave high school. These goals can include higher education, employment, and independent living. Far too often, however, students and their families are unaware of the services they should be receiving, and many do not receive the support they need to reach their goals.

“We see students who believe that they are ready for a life transition, only to find out at the last minute that they are not prepared.”

“We see students who believe that they are ready for a life transition, only to find out at the last minute that they are not prepared,” said Darlene Hemerka, a Public Interest Law Center staff attorney who represented Antonio and his family. “Public schools must provide students with disabilities the transition services that they are legally entitled to receive.”

Throughout his education, Antonio had a solid record of behavior and attendance, and one of his parents regularly attended meetings to discuss his Individualized Education Programs (IEP). He was provided early intervention services while in pre-school, but did not receive any special education services until May of Second Grade. Finally, his parents requested an evaluation, and Antonio was diagnosed with specific learning disability.

Specific learning disabilities affect over 2.8 million students nationwide. One of the most common specific learning disabilities is dyslexia, a learning disability that makes reading difficult. With support, students with specific learning disabilities can perform at grade level in school.

The Complaint alleged Antonio was never offered Extended School Year services, which would have helped him preserve any educational gains he had made during the year and that, while Antonio received accommodations throughout school, the school District never informed Antonio that he would have to apply for accommodations for the SAT. He did not receive any accommodations when taking the SAT. Other allegations included the District did not inform Antonio on the process for accommodations in a college setting or connect him with any outside agencies such as the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, which has expertise in helping people with disabilities prepare for and obtain employment. Antonio, who graduated in June 2019, is now taking a year to prepare for further education.